Born in New York, Dr. James Sibley Watson, Jr. was an heir to the Western Union telegraph fortune created by Hiram Sibley and Don Alonzo Watson. He graduated from Harvard in 1916, although he is listed as a member of the class of 1917, where he became a friend of poet E. E. Cummings. Watson and his first wife, Hildegarde Lasell Watson, were lifelong supporters of Cummings, as well as of Marianne Moore and Kenneth Burke.
In addition to earning a medical degree, Watson became directly involved in the literary movements of the post-World War I era with another Harvard graduate, Scofield Thayer, who had purchased $600 worth of stock in the influential literary magazine, The Dial, in 1918. In 1919, Thayer invited Watson to purchase ownership of The Dial from the financially strapped Martyn Johnson, with Watson serving as the magazine's new president and Thayer becoming the editor. Their joint venture produced its first issue in January 1920 and featured works by friends of Thayer and Watson such as Cummings, and through another Harvard connection, Gaston Lachaise.
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